- Review Date: 09/1/11
- Bottom line:
This free product scored better than the commercial competition in PCMag's hands-on antivirus tests, and it also gets high marks from the independent labs. It now integrates with other AVG products and includes useful bonus features. AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 is PCMag's new Editors' Choice for free antivirus.
Very good scores in PCMag's malware removal and malware blocking tests. High ratings from independent labs. Protection against phishing and exploits. Toolbar with safe search, Facebook access, and more. Fast scan.
Rootkit scan is separate from whole computer scan. Phishing and exploit protection less effective than antivirus.
AVG Technologies is best known for antivirus protection, but in recent years the company has branched out, adding system tune-up, parental control, online backup, and more. But have no fear; you can still get the powerful protection of AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 without spending a penny. In my tests and in tests by independent labs it beats many of its for-pay competition. Do note that it's specifically free for personal use; business users must pay for AVG's antivirus protection.
The 2012 edition's main screen collapses the previous edition's ten component icons down to six, but adds three new ones to integrate the company's other products. If you use AVG Family Safety ($19.95 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars), AVG PC Tuneup 2011 ($29.99/year direct, 4 stars), or AVG LiveKive online backup, you can click the icon to link your products. If you don't, naturally the antivirus includes an option to get them.
Good Lab Results
All of the labs I follow test AVG's technology and give it generally good ratings. ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs certify it for virus detection; West Coast adds checkmark certification for virus removal as well. In all of the last ten tests by Virus Bulletin, AVG has received VB100 certification.
AVG participates in the on-demand test by AV-Comparatives.org, but not in the retrospective test, which simulates zero-day protection by using old virus signatures. In the on-demand test AVG rated STANDARD, the lowest passing grade.
AV-Comparatives also runs a whole-product dynamic test, challenging products to protect test systems from real-world up-to-the-minute threats. In this test AVG rated ADVANCED, a cut above STANDARD.
The ongoing antivirus certification tests by AV-Test.org are also dynamic tests, emulating a user's real-world experience. Products can receive up to 6 points for protection, repair, and usability, with a total of 11 points required for certification. In the most recent tests under Windows 7, Vista, and XP, AVG averaged 13.17 points.
The article How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests explains how I boil down results from the various labs to create the following chart.
Very Good Malware Cleanup
AVG installed quickly on my twelve malware-infested test systems. Resistant malware on one system interfered with installation, but installing in Safe Mode solved that one. On half of the test systems AVG detected active threats immediately and requested a reboot to finalize cleanup.
A full scan on my standard clean test system took just 16 minutes, and a repeat scan finished in less than two minutes. That's plenty fast. The average scan time for recent products on this same system is 25 minutes.
I always find it odd that AVG separates rootkit scanning from the whole computer scan. For the test systems infested with rootkits I ran the separate rootkit scan, which added about three minutes.
When I tallied the results I was quite impressed. AVG detected 88 percent, the same as TrustPort Antivirus 2012 ($39.95 direct, 3.5 stars). Of the products tested with this current threat collection, only G Data AntiVirus 2012 ($29.95 direct, 3.5 stars), with 91 percent, detected more.
AVG didn’t clean up perfectly. It left behind executable files for some threats, and even left a few processes running. However, its score of 6.5 points for malware removal is a new high for the current crop of antivirus products, beating out the 6.4 point record held by Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware Free 1.51 (Free, 4 stars).
AVG detected all of the threats that use rootkit technology and scored 6.7 points for rootkit removal, a tie for top score with ZoneAlarm Antivirus + Firewall 2012 ($59.95 direct for three licenses, 3 stars). Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2012 ($39.95 direct for three licenses, 4 stars) was the next-best rootkit remover, with 6.0 points.
The majority of current products detected all of my scareware samples. Malwarebytes scored a perfect 10, thoroughly cleaning up scareware. AVG was close behind with 9.5 points, the same as BitDefender, Panda Cloud Anti-Virus 1.5 Free Edition (Free, 3.5 stars), and several others.
This is quite an impressive showing, and it parallels the dynamic test results from the labs. For a full explanation of how I come up with these scores see How We Test Malware Removal.
Malware Blocking Also Good
AVG uses real-time scanning for known threats as well as a behavior-monitoring tool that they call "identity protection". In addition, its LinkScanner component protects against dangerous Web sites. Specifically, its Surf-Shield module blocks exploits and "complex online threats", and Search-Shield marks dangerous links in popular search engine results.
An additional LinkScanner component called Online Shield isn't enabled in the free edition, so I wasn't surprised to find no URLs blocked when I attempted to re-download my current malware collection. AVG did wipe out a third of those whose URLs were still valid immediately upon download.
When I opened a folder containing those same samples, AVG quickly wiped out nearly 60 percent of them. It caught all but a couple of the rest either immediately on launch or during the install process. AVG detected 94 percent of the threats, the same as Trend Micro Titanium Antivirus+ 2012 ($39.95 direct, 2.5 stars) and Outpost Antivirus Pro 7.5 ($29.95 direct for three licenses, 3 stars). Only Trustport, with 97 percent, detected more.
AVG's malware blocking score of 8.4 would have been higher, but it actually let a couple of detected threats install and launch a process. Of products tested with this same collection, G Data's 9.0 points is the top score, with Outpost's 8.8 close behind.
Almost all of the current products have detected 100 percent of rootkit samples, and more than half have detected 100 percent of the scareware samples. AVG detected 100 percent in both tests. It scored 8.3 for rootkit blocking and 9.1 for scareware blocking. G Data and Trustport share the top rootkit blocking score, 9.1 points. G Data and Panda Antivirus Pro 2012 ($49.99/year direct for three licenses, 3 stars) scored a perfect 10.0 for scareware blocking.
While AVG's malware blocking scores aren't quite as high as its removal scores, they're still very good. For an explanation of how these scores are calculated, see How We Test Malware Blocking.
Limited Phishing Protection
The SurfShield component also aims to keep users from accidentally visiting phishing sites, but it's not as effective as the antivirus protection. In testing, its detection rate was 59 percentage points below that of Norton Internet Security 2011 ($69.99 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars). That's just a few points better than last year's model.
AVG scored 16 percentage points higher than Internet Explorer alone. However, IE had a really bad week for phishing detection. Its detection rate typically averages about 40 points behind Norton; this week it was 75 points behind. Had it been working as well as usual, it would have beaten AVG. You'll definitely want to leave IE's SmartScreen Filter active.
The article How We Test Antiphishing explains exactly how I derive antiphishing scores.
As mentioned earlier, the Surf-Shield component is designed to detect hacked or malicious Web sites that contain dangerous exploits. To evaluate its prowess I attacked the test system using exploits generated by the Core Impact penetration system.
Surf-Shield blocked six of the 32 exploits, identifying each by name. Another four were blocked when the real-time antivirus component detected the files they were attempting to place on the system. None of the exploits actually succeeded in penetrating security.
Norton Internet Security 2011 ($69.99 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars) detected and identified every single exploit at the time I last tested it, but then, it's a full-scale security suite that costs quite a bit. AVG's protection is darn good considering that it's free and that most antivirus products don't even try to protect against exploits.
AVG includes a number of useful bonus features. Its PC Analyzer tool scans your system for junk files that can be deleted, useless or erroneous Registry entries, and broken file shortcuts. It also checks the system's drives for fragmentation. When finished it reports how many errors it found and rates the severity of the problem.
Clicking the "Fix now" button sends you online to download the separate AVG PC Tuneup 2011 ($29.99/year direct, 4 stars). This tool has an unusual free trial mode. You can run a full tuneup exactly once; repeated use requires a purchase.
AVG also installs a browser toolbar that offers safe search, current weather, and quick access to Windows Explorer, Notepad, and Calculator. Perhaps more useful is its Facebook button. Once you install the AVG Facebook app, clicking the button gets a quick view of your news feed, notifications, friend requests, or messages.
The help system states that LinkScanner will check your Facebook and MySpace links and optionally add "Secured by LinkScanner" to messages you send. However, the setting described in the help wasn't actually present in the product, and I didn't see any LinkScanner activity on Facebook.
A Very Good Choice
This product is a great choice overall for free antivirus protection. It has the best scores among current products in my malware removal test and very good scores for malware blocking as well. The independent labs also give it high marks. AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 is PCMag's new Editors' Choice for free antivirus protection. Will it retain that title? We'll know after the rest of the 2012 security products arrive.
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